Recap: Seoul Tea Talk on ‘How not to get sued’

The February 28 tea talk on defamation laws in Korea had a great turnout. The topic was “How not to get sued and what to do if you do (as a reporter)!” and the guests were Korea University Law Professor Park Kyung-shin, former correspondent Michael Breen, and Korea Observer’s Lee Tae-hoon.

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Photo by Sean Lim


Seoul-based AAJA​-Asia​ member, Salgu Wissmath,​ recapped the event:

At the last Tea Talk we discussed South Korea’s defamation laws. Korea has both falsity defamation laws and truth defamation laws. If you publish something false that causes defamation, you can be charged with falsity defamation. This is similar to defamation laws in other countries. However, in Korea, if you publish something true that causes defamation, you can also be charged with truth defamation. Not only that, you can be charged both civilly and criminally.

This means you can be punished criminally for publishing true statements, if someone feels the statements have defamed them. In most other places truth is automatically a case against defamation. But in Korea you must prove “public interest.” The scope of what is considered “public interest” is very narrow. For example, there was a case where some workers protested outside their workplace with placards that stated they were not getting paid. The boss filled a criminal complaint. Even though the statements on the placards were true, they were not considered to be solely for public interest, and the workers were found guilty.

The good news is, as a journalist you are generally considered to be writing for public interest. Even if you are charged with defamation and go to trial, you will most likely be found not guilty. The unfortunate thing is that the Korean media has often been suppressed by defamation cases, even if the cases aren’t won in the end.

Key Takeaways:

If you write truth solely for public interest you are exempt from truth defamation. Most mainstream media is considered “public interest.”

If you are a blogger or with online media, you can register with the Ministry of Culture as a reporter. It’s not legally required, but it helps you out when you need to prove you are writing for “public interest”.

If you are charged with a defamation lawsuit, find a good lawyer.

You cannot be liable for a statement of opinion, so parody and satire are exempt. These laws apply only to statements of fact.

Right of Response- If you’re writing about someone who doesn’t want to talk to you, such as a cult, it’s always good to include in the article that you requested comment and they refused.

Voice recordings- It is legal to record your own conversation without permission. Publishing it makes you liable for defamation laws. If it’s true, it’s ok. If it’s false, you can be charged with falsity defamation.

Video recordings- It’s best to get consent, especially if you are recording something private.

Salgu Wissmath runs The Sejong Dish, a blog centering around life in Jochiwon and Sejong, South Korea. Follow her on Instagram @salguwissmath.

Photo via Sean Lim
Photo via Sean Lim

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